When the 2015 Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile Sled Dog Race gets underway on Saturday in Whitehorse, four past champions will be mushing to the Start Line.
Among them is two-time defending champion Allen Moore of Two Rivers, Alaska. Moore is coming off a recent victory at this year’s Copper Basin 300, and with a veteran dog team he has to be considered a favourite.
Another victory this year will tie him with Hans Gatt as a three-time champion, and leave him one away from Lance Mackey’s record four titles. But as he takes a look down the list of registered mushers, Moore admits this may be his toughest competition yet.
“This is a really good group, and not just the past champions,” said Moore. “A lot of people could be up in front.”
Jeff King, who won the race in 1989, is returning to the race for the first time in 25 years, after picking up four Iditarod championships. Lance Mackey is back after a one-year absence, and hoping his young team can carry him back to the top. Hugh Neff, who claimed the title in 2012, can’t be counted out either. He finished second in last year’s race.
“Jeff is a smart racer," said Moore. "He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. However, he is almost like a rookie a little bit, because it’s been so long since he’s run the Quest trail.”
Moore says he heard through the mushing community that King went to check out the back half of the Quest trail earlier this year, and could not believe how steep Eagle Summit was.
“It’s easy to forget how tough some portions of the trail are when it’s been 25 years. The 200-plus miles from Pelly to Dawson… a lot of people can’t believe how far that is, from one checkpoint to the next.”
“Jeff is a competitor though. He could do it. He’s a smart guy.”
Moore points out that Mackey has all the experience in the world, but is running a young dog team.
“That’s the only thing maybe holding him back. He knows the trail though, and he knows how to win. So if his dogs are able, he will give it a good shot.”
Ray Redington Jr. may be a rookie to the Yukon Quest trail, but he’s far from being a rookie on the mushing circuit. And there’s one young musher in particular that Moore has his eye on – Joar Leifseth Ulsom.
“Joar will be one of the ones to watch. He was top five in the Iditarod, and sixth in his rookie year of the Yukon Quest. He knows the trail, having run it two years ago. He will definitely be up in the top group.”
Of course the biggest key to a three-peat for Moore won’t be the performance of his fellow mushers, as much as it will be the performance of his own dog team. He had quite a few athletes to choose from, when deciding which 14 to take on this year’s journey.
“It’s hard to decide who to take, and that’s a good thing. The trick is to replace these older dogs with really good young dogs. Then you never lose momentum as far as running or knowledge that the dogs have out on the trail.”
Quito will once again lead the team, after two straight years as a Golden Harness Award winner.
“She’s been in lead for last four Iditarods and last four Quests. She’ll be the number one girl again this year,” said Moore. “She’s eight years old now though, so she is getting older. We’ve incorporated some of her young three year olds into the team. “
“Last year we had a nine year old on the team, so it was time to switch a couple out. We could have a better team this year than last.”
There are a couple of big changes to this year’s race trail, particularly the shorter layover in Dawson City and the return of American Summit, which was eliminated due to weather conditions the past two years.
“The 24-hour layover in Dawson changes a lot,” stated Moore. “A person cannot run their dogs as hard, with a 24-hour rest versus a 36.”
He also expects that Eagle Summit will be a key component in this year’s race, since it’s on the back end. Still, he’s confident that if he runs the race according to his plans, his team can pick up the win.
“You just run your schedule and do what you think is going to get you there."